Question: May one hang up laundry that was washed on Erev Shabbat to dry on Shabbat?
Answer: The Mishnah (Shabbat 146b) states: “One whose clothing became wet on Shabbat may continue to wear them without concern. When he reaches the outer courtyard, he may spread out the garment to dry facing the sun but not facing the people.” This means that one may not hang up clothing to dry in a place where people see the clothing, for people may suspect that one laundered the clothing on Shabbat. Thus, the Mishnah rules that one may not spread out the garment in a way which appears that he is drying it in order for people not to suspect that one has laundered this garment on Shabbat. However, if one does so in one’s home, there is no need to be concerned about people seeing this and suspecting that he has laundered the garment on Shabbat.
The Gemara (ibid.) states: “Rav Yehuda said in the name of Shmuel: Any place where our Sages decreed as a result of people’s suspicion, this prohibition applies even in the privacy of an enclosed room in one’s home.” Thus, Rav Yehuda disagrees with the premise set forth by the Mishnah that it is only forbidden to hang up laundry to dry where people can see him but this is permissible if no one sees him, for whenever our Sages forbade something because of the concern that people would see this action and suspect the individual of sinning, it is forbidden to perform this action even in the privacy of one’s own home. If so, the same applies to the prohibition of spreading out clothing to dry on Shabbat and according to Rav Yehuda, this will be prohibited even in an enclosed room in one’s home, such as the bathroom and the like. The Gemara questions Rav Yehuda’s words from our Mishnah which states that although the Sages prohibited hanging up laundry on Shabbat because of the concern of people’s suspicion, this applies only in a place where people can see him but it will be permissible to do so in the privacy of one’s home! How then can Rav Yehuda contradict an explicit Mishnah? The Gemara then defends Rav Yehuda’s opinion, for this matter is subject to a Tannaic dispute, as the Baraita states, “One may spread the garment to dry facing the sun, but not facing the people. However, Rabbi Elazar and Rabbi Shimon prohibit even this.” Thus, Rav Yehuda follows the opinion of Rabbi Elazar and Rabbi Shimon who prohibit hanging the laundry to dry even in an enclosed room in one’s home.
Halachically speaking, Rabbeinu Nissim Gaon rules in accordance with the Mishnah that only spreading the clothing to dry where people see the individual is prohibited; however, doing so within one’s home is permissible. Nevertheless, the Rif, Rambam, and Rosh all rule in accordance with Rabbi Elazar and Rabbi Shimon that anything forbidden by our Sages out of concern for suspicion is forbidden even in the privacy of one’s home.
It is therefore forbidden to hang clothing on Shabbat as long as one is doing so in a way which seems that one is doing so in order to dry the garment lest other suspect one of laundering on Shabbat. This is prohibited even if the garment is dry, for some may suspect that the garment became slightly soiled and one laundered it or people may think that the garment was wet. Indeed, Maran Ha’Shulchan Aruch (Chapter 301) rules that anything prohibited by our Sages out of concern for suspicion is forbidden even in an enclosed room where no one can see. Nevertheless, Rabbeinu Yosef Haim of Baghdad rules that if one hung up laundry to dry on Erev Shabbat, one need not remove the laundry before the onset of Shabbat, for our Sages did not decree upon this matter at all as a result of people’s suspicion.
Besides for the above, one may not move a completely wet garment on Shabbat lest one come to wring it out, which is a Torah prohibition. Only a garment which is only partially wet may be moved on Shabbat, for it is uncommon to squeeze such a garment. Similarly, if a garment one is wearing becomes wet on Shabbat, one need not remove it, for there is no concern that one will wring it out.
Summary: One may not hang up clothes on Shabbat in a manner in which it is apparent that one intends to dry them. This prohibition applies to laundered clothing or clothing which has become wet in any other manner. One may not be lenient to hang clothing even in the bathroom of one’s home. A completely soaked garment which is usually wrung out may not be moved on Shabbat lest one wring it out and transgress a Torah prohibition by doing so.